By Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle
| Oct. 7, 2019
Cascade Drilling, LLC, uses a sonic rig to drill a monitoring well at the 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia Air National Guard, Sept. 25, 2019. The drilling is part of an expanded site investigation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in and around the Martinsburg, W.Va. air base. The 167th AW's use of aqueous film forming foam, AFFF, for fighting petroleum fires, contained PFAS, and is thought to have migrated to the Big Springs Deep Well which provides water for the City of Martinsburg. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a drinking water advisory for PFOA and PFOS in 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sg. Emily Beightol-Deyerle) (Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle)
Drilling began at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., as part of an Expanded Site Inspection the Air National Guard base and surrounding areas for perfluorooctane sulfanate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), together referred to as PFAS, Sept. 25.
The ESI will provide additional data to a previous site inspection conducted in 2017. Additionally, the study will determine if there are upgradient sources that could be contributing to PFAS beneath the base and it will assess potential PFAS migration pathways between the base and private and public water supply wells.
PFAS, which are not known to degrade by any natural process, have been used in many industrial and consumer products such as nonstick cookware, stain resistant fabric, and food packaging.
The PFAS contamination in local drinking water has been linked to past use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) for firefighting activities at the 167th.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a Lifetime Health Advisory for PFAS in 2016, prompting the temporary shut-down of the Big Springs Water Treatment Facility in Martinsburg, which pulls water from the Big Springs Deep Well. The City of Martinsburg promptly purchased and installed a granular activated carbon filtration system at the facility to remove PFAS from the water. In June 2019, the U.S. Air Force reimbursed the City of Martinsburg for nearly $5 million for the cost of the filtration system.
As part of the Air Force’s three-step approach — identify, respond, protect — the Air National Guard completed a preliminary assessment in August 2015 that identified potential release areas where AFFF may have been used at the wing.
The initial site inspection, conducted in 2017, included collection of soil sediment, surface water and ground water at 10 potential release sites identified in the preliminary assessment. Results from that site inspection showed exceedances above the lifetime health advisory at eight of the 10 potential release sites.
“The initial site inspection looked at areas of concern on base,” said Maj. Blake Bennett, environmental engineer for the 167th Civil Engineering Squadron. “This expanded site inspection will take another look at those areas on base but will also inspect locations off base.”
The Air Force follows the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and data and site information gathered during the expanded site investigation will move the 167th one step closer to a long-term solution for addressing the contamination, Blake explained.
“This is a nation-wide issue that requires a whole of government approach and we have a vested and long-term interest, here at the 167th. We enjoy tremendous strength and support from our community. Things that impact our community also impact our Airmen and their families,” said Col. David Cochran, 167th Airlift Wing commander.
The legacy AFFF was last used at the 167th in 2011, when an aircraft crashed during an air show. The legacy AFFF has since been replaced with a new, more environmentally responsible formula that contains no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Control (ATSDR) is currently conducting voluntary exposure assessments in Martinsburg. The primary goal of these exposure assessments is to provide information to communities about levels of PFAS in their bodies. This information will also be used to help inform future studies evaluating the impact of PFAS exposure on human health. For more information on this study please visit: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/
For more information on the Air Force’s response to PFOS and PFOA please visit http://www.afcec.af.mil/WhatWeDo/Environment/Perfluorinated-Compounds/